Monday, 31 October 2011



Finals Day 3 (Sunday, 30 October 2011)

CHEN HAN (Taiwan)

The second of two Taiwanese boys, 19-year-old Chen Han, opened the evening with Howard Blake’s Speech after Long Silence. Playing from a score, his was a glacial account, very slow to the point of being stultifying. Soporific might be the more appropriate term, and it sounded very much like a struggle. However there was some method to this madness, as if it were a protracted rubato, making the faster passages sound more brilliant in comparison. This extreme swing in dynamics also had the uncanny effect of reminding one of Scriabin’s more frenzied pages, so it all worked out in a weird way.

Only in a piano competition will one get to hear two performances of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in the space of one evening. It’s either piano heaven or an overdose of romantic excess. In either case, the results can be quite exciting, as tonight proved. The first performance of Rach 3 came from Chen Han, who is studying at The Juilliard School. His was a steady and quietly confident account, as if keeping his emotions in reserve until some pivotal movement. I waited, and that moment did not occur in the first movement, which sounded for most part restrained and small scaled. The lyrical second subject was lovingly shaped, which underlined the young man’s sensitivity and sensibilities. The choice of the lighter and more scintillating cadenza was the right one, as the brooding chordal alternative would not have been appropriate here.

The slow movement’s orchestral introduction was taken a little too slowly, in fact it dragged, but Chen’s entry was excellent and it was here when his performance began to take wing and soar. The whimsical little waltz episode was brilliantly dispatched, a good prelude for the finale’s fest of prestidigitation. His fingers did not fail him for a second, and if there were a point of regret, it was he did not shape the movement’s soaring (and more vital) second with greater clarity. There were two chances for it, and he did not make the big melody happen. And there was also a tendency to rush the fences, almost leaving the orchestra in his wake. Nevertheless, this was a performance which grew in stature, and one that made a listener care about the music and the performer.

My verdict: This young man has potential and bears watching, and even if he does not win here, the experience would have been immense.

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